If you "don't get” ballet, you may be thinking too hard. In the words of one friend who went to see Boston Ballet's Balanchine/Robbins program with me on opening night, “you look past it and it appears.” While many ballets tell a story or convey a theme, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins encourage us to appreciate beauty for the sake of beauty. We don't try to understand a moonrise, after all.

Symphony in Three Movements © The George Balanchine Trust, photo by Rosalie O'Connor
Symphony in Three Movements
© The George Balanchine Trust, photo by Rosalie O'Connor

Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15 looks like a classical ballet and acts like a modern ballet. Costumes are from a previous era (gold brocade tutus), but the dancers are quicker and more virtuosic. There is no downtime. There's none of what we'd call recitative in opera, where the story takes a moment to catch up. This is a ballet in which it is best to sit back and watch. It is anthropomorphic music and you don't want to miss a note.

Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun is referential of Nijinsky to the point of being reverential. Or perhaps my experience approached reverential. That's the thing with ballet – it's hard to tell where the choreography stops and the experience begins. Robbins uses much of Nijinsky's vocabulary – we would know which ballet it was even without the music – but sets it in a dance studio. We look into the room from the front, where the mirror would be. The audience is essentially watching this ballet Through the Looking Glass. And it is dream-like. The colors are dreamy, the walls are translucent and the interaction between the two dancers is trance-like and mesmerizing.

Afternoon of a Faun was followed by an orchestral interlude, Debussy's Un Bateau Cortege. It's a lovely piece that half the audience missed it because they were busy chatting. The rumble of conversation during preludes and interludes has increased in recent years. When a live orchestra plays, shouldn't we be listening? One of the selling points of ballet is the combination of art forms – dance and symphony. While I love the contemporary choreographers and their ingenious use of music (and silence), I do love a live orchestra. It's like a friend you see and realized you've missed. This program was full of Mozart, Debussy and Stravinsky, all of which I'd be very happy to see on a symphony program. For no additional cost, I can watch the music as well as hear it.

Watching music is the thread that runs through all four ballets in the program. Robbins' Antique Epigraphs is a painting in textiles that moves perfectly with the music (again by Debussy). The dancers wear sheer, ankle-length organza dresses in earthy tones, creating swirls of color as they move. Colors and shapes appear and dissolve.
Costumes dance with the dancers. It is like watching a series of time-lapse photographs.

I watched Symphony in Three Movements from the Mezzanine, which is my favorite place to watch most Balanchine choreography. In these ballets, the dancers form shapes on the stage, morphing and flowing, dividing into groups and weaving back together. Where the dancers are on stage is just as important as what they do when they get there. Symphony in Three Movements is jazzy and energetic, matching Stravinsky's music. I frequently found myself getting caught up in what the corps was doing instead of watching the soloists. There is so much to watch, it's hard to know where to focus. And with a company like Boston Ballet, you could spend all evening just watching their hands.

The most tender moments happened outside of the choreography, beginning with Tiffany Hedman pulling a few blossoms out of her bouquet to give to her partner and ending with James Whiteside spontaneously kissing Lia Cirio's hand at final curtain. While the choreography is arguably some of the best that came out of the last decade, it is the company that gives it life and makes us wish that next season would come a little faster.